Mississippi State’s Simmons emerging as defensive standout
STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) — In the span of 60 minutes of football on Saturday, Mississippi State defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons put on impressive display of what a 300-pound man can do to dominate a game.
His first act was on special teams, when he blocked an extra point and a few minutes later blocked a punt before recovering it for a touchdown. His second act was on defense, when he scooped up a fumble and rumbled 90 yards for another touchdown during the Bulldogs’ 57-21 win over Louisiana Tech.
Nobody was close to catching him.
“Two touchdowns by a guy his size? That’s crazy,” Mississippi State linebacker Gerri Green said. “We’re proud of him and he had a little speed on that second one. It was an incredible night for him.”
Simmons, a 6-foot-4, 301-pound sophomore, has quickly emerged as one of Mississippi State’s best defensive players going into the team’s Southeastern Conference opener. The Bulldogs (2-0) host No. 12 LSU (2-0) on Saturday.
Simmons has shown he can make the big play, but he’s also getting better at handling the routine moments. He’s second on the team with 10 tackles, including one sack.
“Obviously, he’s a gifted athlete,” Mullen said. “You can see that with the special plays he makes. But he’s really worked hard in understanding the fundamentals of the game, being where he’s supposed to be, when he’s supposed to be there and how he’s supposed to be there.”
Simmons is on pace to easily outdo his production as a freshman, when he had 40 tackles, including 3½ tackles for a loss.
“I’m way more confident,” Simmons said. “I feel like I work way harder than I did as a freshman. When I came in, I was banged up, and couldn’t do every team activity. But this past winter and summer, I worked my tail off every day.”
Simmons will get quite a test on Saturday when Mississippi State’s defense goes up against talented LSU running back Derrius Guice. The junior has run for 224 yards and four touchdowns over the season’s first two games.
LSU coach Ed Orgeron is impressed with Simmons, who he also tried to recruit out of Macon, Mississippi.
“I wanted to get him,” Orgeron said. “He was one of my No. 1 guys on the board. He’s a difference-maker. He’s a first-round draft choice. He’s coached very well.”
Simmons’ career at Mississippi State has been controversial from the start. A month after he signed with the Bulldogs in 2016, he was arrested following a fight where he was caught on video standing over a woman and repeatedly punching her.
He eventually was found guilty of malicious mischief and pleaded no contest to a simple assault charge. He was suspended one game. The decision to allow him to enroll at Mississippi State — along with the short suspension — was met with widespread criticism.
Simmons has expressed regret for the incident and Mullen has repeatedly defended the school’s decision. He did again on Monday.
“When you know the person involved, and you know a lot about them, which happens in recruiting, and then you know a lot about the situation that occurred, more than just a 10-second video, it allows you to make better decisions,” Mullen said.
AP Sports Writer Brett Martel in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, contributed to this story.